For my baby boomer generation, Randy Newman — the gravelly throated singer-songwriter — is an iconic figure.
Kudos to an eclectic group of Wichita entrepreneurship organizations partnering with Grumpy Old Men — a group of successful businessmen — for bringing the star to Wichita to perform outside Century II as part of Riverfest on June 9.
He’s coming not just for the entertainment, but to headline a series of activities for kids from kindergarten through eighth grade aimed at exposing them to entrepreneurial careers.
Why kids? Because unless you’re born into an entrepreneurial family, you’re less likely to become an entrepreneur yourself.
Indeed, recent research shows college graduates prefer working for older, established firms rather than the young firms that are needed to power the next generation of this country’s growth.
The need for this is especially great in Wichita, which — despite its strong entrepreneurial heritage — has been in the beginning stages of essentially starting over. We need a new generation of new businesses, which national statistics show not only generate the lion’s share of net new jobs, but are disproportionately responsible for new products and services.
In Wichita, the Entrepreneurial Task Force, spearheaded by Gary Oborny, is leading the way, pushing all kinds of programs — a business accelerator (e2e) and a program designed to ready businesses for the accelerator (Launch Prep) — to help put the entrepreneurial spark back into Wichita.
One Million Cups, which weekly showcases entrepreneurs at all stages in their business journeys, is also a big part of this emerging ecosystem.
But unless Wichita’s adults can excite our kids to become entrepreneurs, our ceiling for growth and change will be too low.
The e2e FuturEpreneurship Expo — scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Wichita Boathouse before the Randy Newman concert — will feature a variety of hands-on experiences for kids: making products, going through simulated stages of launching a business and doing a demo pitch on camera.
Wichita entrepreneurs will be there, too, providing connections that — who knows? — may lead to future mentorship and financial support for some of the attendees.
The ETF, Youth Entrepreneurs and DECA also continue to work hard to instill entrepreneurship skills in high school students. At the college level, Wichita State University is at the forefront, not only with its courses, but experiential activities that will be at the heart of the university’s Innovation Campus, now really taking form.
There is a lot of wealth in our community. The problem has been the pipeline of angel- or venture-worthy investment.
All of this activity, if continued and strengthened, eventually will generate the pipeline of new companies that will attract funding.
Just ask Trevor Crotts, founder of BuddyRest — a manufacturer of innovative dog beds — or Andrew Gough of Reverie Coffee Roaster, both of which are expanding. Both are graduates of the first class of e2e, a program that lifts the sights of emerging businesses and their founders to reach for the stars, and connect them to investors.
Randy Newman is just the kind of out-of-the-box entertainer who can inspire our next generation of budding entrepreneurs. Because it will take out-of-the-box thinking and hard work by a lot of people to sustain Wichita’s growth in this century.
Robert Litan, an attorney and economist, is adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also is a member of the President's Advisory Council at WSU. Twitter: @BobLitan
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